By Lauren Wanko
It’s a bittersweet moment for these veterans as they welcome this Huey, a 1964 military helicopter, to its new home at the Vietnam Era Museum in Holmdel.
“Looking at the chopper, it gives me goosebumps, it really does,” said Vietnam veteran Dan O’Leary.
“We all have a little twinkle in our eye along with a tear. This symbol of Vietnam means so much to the guys that worked on it,” said Carl Burns, another Vietnam vet.
We first met this war veteran and the vets who restored it in January. For nearly 14 months, this team labored to transform the old helicopter.
“The thing was full of birds’ nests and bees and I thought to myself, ‘We’ll never get this thing working,’ and here we are today,” O’Leary said.
Early this morning, the Huey, which flew two tours of duty in Vietnam, hovered once more — for a moment before the crew mounted it on a trailer for its final journey from an airport hangar in Wall Township to Holmdel.
“Twenty-eight miles on back roads when customarily would have been a 12-mile haul if we could have utilized the Parkway,” said Jim Cleffi, vice president of project development at W.J. Casey Trucking and Rigging.
It finally arrived at the museum. Folks patiently waited in the pouring rain, united in their patriotism.
“It was very emotional because I know this helicopter brought my husband back home,” said Rahway resident Joanne Bober.
“We always felt it was a symbol of hope for us over there because it was coming to help you and to this day if you know the rotor’s overhead you’ll know it’s a Huey,” said Vietnam War veteran Michael O’Connell.
The veterans received the Huey from the New Jersey National Guard.
“We’ve made a statement about one of the important important icons in the war and we’re honoring that and all who flew them and flew in them,” said New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation Executive Director Bill Linderman.
About 9,000 students visit the Vietnam Era Museum every year. Many of the same veterans who restored this Huey give tours throughout the year too. Now they’ll have something new to share.
“Now they can come here and see this piece of history and live it,” said Ken Gurbisz, project manager for the Huey Restoration Project.
The veterans’ next project is to create and build a mission simulator with Devry University, so folks who visit the museum can take part in a variety of missions Huey pilots actually experienced in Vietnam.
But Vietnam vets aren’t the only war heroes who restored this Huey. One veteran served two tours in Afghanistan.
“It’s a brotherhood. It doesn’t matter what war it’s been. We all share the same common bond and we’re all family,” said Sergeant of Marines William Carolan.
The Huey will officially be dedicated to all the aircrews who served in Vietnam next month on Remembrance Day.